Published Sep 27, 2018For the better part of the past three years, Toronto rapper Devontée has taken his movement and inclusive messaging of "WOE (Working On Excellence)" and applied it to his lifestyle, allowing himself to be challenged, hone his craft and grow from a young adult into a matured man. Flying from Toronto to New York, L.A. to Europe, and making pit stops in-between, Devontée has relayed his three-year journey on his latest album, Head Gone.
"'Head Gone' is a Caribbean-Toronto term [that means] not [being] there mentally," the rapper tells Exclaim! "I feel like right now, there's a lot of craziness going on in the world — a lot of violence, a lot of thoughtlessness. I feel like a lot of people are distracted and their souls aren't filled with purpose right now. Head Gone is a journey from my perspective over the last three years [and] feeling those emotions and what the world is feeling, and overcoming that through the perspective of a 25-year old Toronto man."
Filled with industrial-sized bass lines, Jamaican-infused melodies and a lyrical package that's part domineering, part discovery, Head Gone presents itself as a bigger-than-life album, which, as the Toronto rapper explains, is shaped by his recent experiences.
"I went through a lot things [in this recording journey] — losing friends, losing work relationships, entering new relationships and seeing if they work or don't work. This is not the only album, but it's one part of the story. There's another album coming that'll be like that the answer to this one. I have over 300 songs, but this is the selection that I felt like that world needed to hear right now to understand me more."
What becomes quickly evident while speaking with Devontée is his dedication to making music that doesn't just reflect him, but those around him.
"I wanted lots of bangers, lots of bass, lots of cultural influence, whether it be Toronto or my Jamaican roots. I'm independent but I'm not alone. It's really crazy to think about all the people who helped me do this," he notes. "All the people," however, also includes Pro Era's CJ Fly, Kardinal Offishall, cousin Ayesha Curry and NBA MVP Kevin Durant.
"I put a lot of work in myself, whether it be the videos, the production, the artwork — that means a lot. I recorded this everywhere — I recorded at 40's studio in Toronto, I recorded at Quad Studios in New York, at my cousin Ayesha and Stephen's pool house, and I mixed and mastered the whole thing at Kevin Durant's house," he says casually. Probing him for more details about how Head Gone went from Toronto to Oakland, Devontée divulges some the details.
"I was over in San Francisco at my cousin's [Ayesha] restaurant opening, and [Durant] was at the restaurant. Me and [Kevin] had a song from a long time ago, and I told him 'Yo bro, we need to link up again and play some music.' He has a huge mansion on the top of Oakland, and he had a studio in it and invited his boy Raleigh over, who ended up being the engineer who mixed and mastered my album."
Though Head Gone fell into the hands of some of the NBA's MVPs, the brotherhood he has developed with Pro Era and Kardinal Offishall is equally as important.
"They remind me of my best friends from home that I grew up with, and vice-versa, and we just automatically clicked. We can just call each other and talk about whatever," he says of the Pro Era crew, with whom he became friends after opening for CJ Fly in 2014. On the other hand, Devontée tells us that he hopes his relationship with Kardi and songs like "Real Rudebwoy" can bridge the generational gap in Toronto's rap scene.
"Kardi has been awesome with anything — he's brought me to a lot of places, introduced me to a lot of people and is always there whenever I need to call or text him to ask any questions, music-related or life-related. We talk about God a lot," he adds.
Despite having so many puzzle pieces in place, Devontée is still known as an underdog in the Canadian rap scene, which he doesn't quite mind, but also isn't prepared to keep.
"I feel like some people don't know what I do, and that was my challenge to myself on this album. I have the product, but how do I get the product in front of people? People can call me the underdog — that's an honour I guess, because they're talking. I'm not out here like 'Yo, I'm a rapper, a producer…' — I'm just Devontée. I treat everybody the same."
Head Gone is out now independently.